One Belt, One Road: A New Roadmap for a Sinocentric World?

Nele Noesselt1
Chair for Chinese Politics, University of Duisburg-Essen

In May 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China jointly issued a document entitled “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road,” a highly strategic declaration endorsed by the State Council.2 This document is the final synthesis of the leadership’s initiatives to promote trade cooperation between Asia, Europe, and Africa. The coordination center of this new global network, known as the “One Belt, One Road” (yi dai, yi lu) (OBOR) strategy or “New Silk Road” initiative, is located in Beijing, but the strategy as such is presented as a universal framework for global development and not a “Chinese” blueprint for a future regional and global order. Nonetheless, although China’s new leaders spared no effort to convince the countries along the New Silk Road that the PRC is neither pursuing an expansionist foreign strategy nor trying to become a regional hegemonic center, in many surrounding countries China’s new, active positioning is perceived as a potential threat to the existing regional and global power constellations and the institutional backbones of the post-WW II international system.

Given the old and new security spirals in East Asia and the PRC’s sharp response to perceived violations of Chinese national core interests by Japan and its Southeast Asian neighbors, the fifth generation’s foreign strategy has widely been categorized by the label “new assertiveness.”3 This classification subscribes to neo-realist scenarios, which predict an inevitable clash between rising powers and the old power centersㅡalso involving the latter’s (regional) allies. The theory narrative of “new assertiveness” is, thus, perceived by Chinese observers as a strategic attempt to contain China’s rise by sowing distrust and spreading fearㅡand, hence, countered by “Chinese” narratives that construct a positive China image and present the country’s international engagement as a contribution to peace and development.

In fact, China’s positioning in regional and global affairs is strongly interwoven with domestic developments. The OBOR initiative, which includes two components, i.e. the New Silk Road Economic Belt as well as the 21 st Century Maritime Silk Road, is embedded in a top-level design (dingceng sheji) and, thus, follows a centralized master plan that links national and global dimensions of the PRC’s domestic needs. It is, first of all, a growth-focused initiative that seeks to build a coherent infrastructure of transportation networks that link the Chinese economy to regional and global raw material suppliers and markets. Given the negative spillover of the financial troubles in the United States and Europe, the OBOR initiative is one among several strategic attempts to stimulate the Chinese economy and to maintain the stability of China’s (political-economic) system by diversifying the network of China’s regional and global partners. Furthermore, at the domestic level, the New Silk Road strategy seeks to modernize China’s remote western provincesㅡwhich in economic terms are far behind China’s coastal areas, the current gravitational centers of China’s modern economy. The New Silk Road, hence, includes nodal points of the historical Silk Roadㅡall situated in China’s less-developed, western, peripheral provinces. But the New Silk Road also links China’s domestic industrial centers, e.g. the Yangzi region, to the outside world.

OBOR is a Chinese response to perceived growing dependence and vulnerability of China’s domestic (economic) development to changes occurring in its external (regional and global) environmentㅡa response that does not secure the status quo but initiates a general transformation of China’s national role-conceptions and its world order images. Seen from the outside, the announcement of China’s OBOR initiative has re-activated the old debate on Sinocentrism, the role- identity of China as tianxia (literally: all under heaven) as well as the tributary system as the operational code of the Chinese empire’s external relations. A revival of tianxia is expected to establish China as the only economical and political center in the Asian region: If the New Silk Road does have a focal point centered on Beijing, the ordering rules and general patterns could be expected to somehow mirror “Chinese” normative views and principled beliefs. Furthermore, the establishment of a strongly intertwined regional network of trade and financial cooperation would also imply that the PRC will have to engage in maintaining regional security and to protect its new trading lanes by expanding the mandate of its armed forces. This step, however, might trigger additional security spirals in the Asian region.

The tantalizing question to assess the drivers and main concepts behind China’s 2013 OBOR initiative is how China’s national role and world order conceptions have been redefined. Chinese foreign policy is still based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence; the PRC does, as underlined in diplomatic statements, not seek to achieve hegemony nor aspire to a leadership role. These articulated national role-conceptions stand in sharp contrast to the “international” debate on China’s “new assertiveness” and the assumption of a remaking of the legendary “Sinocentric” Asian order.

Chinese Theory Debates

With regard to China’s role-status or role-identity as an actor in the global realm, the PRC’s elites are currently debating ways to upgrade China’s international role (and influence) without simultaneously evoking the impression of inducing a role change of China from being a cooperative observer to becoming a coordinating, globally acting new power center. According to official speeches, the PRC has a “split,” though loosely intertwined, role-identity as a developing country and a great power. A 2014 expert debate on Fenghuang (Phoenix Hong Kong) directly targeted the question whether China would seek to become an empire and, if yes, what role this “new” China would play in world affairs.4 Likewise, recent academic publications document a transformation of China from the role-identity of a “global big country” (quanqiu daguo) towards the new role and status of a “global power” (quanqiu qiangguo).5

To understand the causal logic behind China’s national role-conceptions and to assess its recent positioning as a global power, one has to take a closer look at internal academic theory debates on world order and world history. Three critical junctures in world history have accompanied China’s rise to new global power status: the end of the Cold War 1989/1991 which, at least from a Chinese perspective, paved the way for the formation of a multipolar world order in which China is one of the major power centers; 9/11 and the following efforts to jointly combat terrorism that facilitated issue-specific cooperation between the United States and China; and the global financial crisis of 2007/2008, which strikingly illustrated that (financial) power has already shifted towards the Global South and symbolically marked the beginning of more self-confident positioning of the PRC in global affairs.

While the end of the Cold War, at least from a Euro-Atlantic point of view, had resulted in the formation of a unipolar power structure with the United States at its center,6 the latest global crisis of 2007/2008 and the perceived US decline have resulted in a turn to nonpolar world models.7 Both modelsㅡunipolarity as well as nonpolarityㅡare structures that, according to Chinese criticism, reflect the main US interests and US self-ascribed identity as a center of world politics. While the unipolar model provides the basis for US preeminence in world politics, the second notion, nonpolarity, introduces a new plurality of non-state actors that, effectively, counterbalance the rise of new power centers in the Global South and still conceives of the United States as the leader of world politics, although no longer in its role as a hyperpower.

By contrast, China’s “idealized” images of a future world order areㅡat least according to official diplomatic statementsㅡstill based on multipolarity. Initially, this concept was coined to distinguish China’s approach to world politics both from US unipolarity and the EU’s multilateral pattern. Multipolarity is still one of the basic principles of Chinese foreign policy. The concept had originally been attributed to Deng Xiaoping (and Huang Xian), but had officially first been inscribed into China’s foreign strategy by Jiang Zemin at the 14th Party Congress (1992). Multipolarity, following the orthodox definition given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is opposed to “hegemony” and “power politics,” aims at the establishment of “a just and equitable new international political and economic order” and “contributes to world peace and development.” The original model consisted of five poles (USA, Russia, Europe/EU, Japan, and China). In 2001, Hu Jintao postulated that multipolarity had become a silent consensus among the international community of states, and he linked multipolarization to the idea of “democratization” of the international system that would grant equal rights of participation to all state-actors regardless of their current developmental status or political constitution.8

The concept of “democratization of international relations” has been used since the late 1990s. In 2002, the 16th Party Congress integrated this notion into official foreign policy. The concept symbolizes a strategic reply to the strategy of democratization through constructive engagement. The model of a “democratization of international relations” openly criticizes the “dual standard” of democracy: Although the Western community of states is officially favoring democratic principles, the international system is, following the Chinese interpretation, identified as non-democratic and Western powers are hence accused of behaving as hegemonic power centers that monopolize the right to define and shape the rules of the game in international politics.

In political practice, the PRC seems to have acknowledged that the post-Cold War system is structured as “one superpower, many great powers.”9 Instead of voting for a replacement of the still predominantly unipolar system, the PRC has proposed to construct a “harmonious world” (hejie shijie), which would transcend the polar structure of the international system.

Worldviews of the Xi-Li Administration

China’s fifth generation of political leaders, responding to the outcome of the global financial crisis, has started to reinterpret global power constellations and to adapt its visionary concept accordingly. These new worldviews reflect China’s view of self and other as well as the images of other key players in the international system and of their world views. Shortly after taking up the position of general secretary in November 2012, Xi began using the term “Chinese Dream” (Zhongguo meng).10 To some observers this new notion might look like a re-making of the formula “a rich country, a strong army” (fuguo, qiangbing), which served as the ideological orientation for the Chinese self-strengthening movement that gained momentum in the decades following the Chinese empire’s defeat by the West (and later also by Japan, in 1894ㅡ1895). A high-ranking colonel from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Liu Mingfu, reactivated the use of this slogan with his well-received book The Chinese Dream published in 2010.11 So far, however, the notionㅡas used by Xi Jinpingㅡhas remained rather opaque, and, thus, serves as a catch-all phrase that allows different groups within Chinese societyㅡnamely the nationalist-assertive and the liberal-reformist onesㅡto project their own ideas onto Xi’s new slogan.

Xi’s “Chinese Dream” is presented as a development model for China and the world and shows clear parallels to the twin concepts of “harmonious society” (hexie shehui) and “harmonious world.” The former paradigm emerged at the 16th Party Congress (2002) as a follow-up to the earlier propagated “well-off society” (xiaokang shehui), and was continuously repeated in declarations made by the Hu-Wen government. In 2004 the 6th Plenum of the 16th Central Committee passed a resolution on some major questions surrounding the construction of a “harmonious society,” defining the concept as a Chinese mode of good governance.12 While first used at the Asian-Africa Summit (April 2005), the concept of harmony was officially presented as a new guiding principle for global politics at the summit held to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (September 2005). It replaced China’s earlier concept of a “better world,” formulated by Jiang Zemin during his speech at the 50th anniversary meeting of the United Nations.13 The “Chinese Dream” idea now combines the domestic and global dimensions of “harmony,” and simultaneously addresses two audiences: the various actor groups within Chinese society and members of the international community.

Although this could be read as the transfer of the American Dream to the Chinese context, there remains one core difference between these two. While both describe the idea that everyone can make his own destiny by working hard to attain his goals, the “Chinese Dream” is not territorially bound. Even though it is deeply rooted in the Chinese context, the notion is also presented as a possible future scenario for the Asian region and world society. This clearly shows that China has taken the road towards becoming a global power. Previously reluctant to engage in issues of global governance, it is moving towards active participation in regional and global norm-building and the (re-)negotiation of the conceptual underpinnings of the existing world order. Domestic foreign policy discourse has in recent years been dedicated to developing frameworks of analysis and guidelines for political action that should allow China to effectively pursue its national interests through international cooperation and further integration into international trade.

Whereas the “harmonious world” paradigm had been criticized as an attempt to substitute for international norms and standards ordering principles derived from China’s domestic governance concept, the idea of a common “dream” of wealth and power is obviously quite appealing to other rising powers and regional players from the Global South. Xi referred to this shared dream during his first trip abroad to Russia14 and South Africa.15

Reinvention of the Tianxia and Revival of a Sinocentric Asia?

China’s dream is first of all a dream of re-emergence to great power status and centre position. The way to achieve this goal, as Chinese politicians always underline, is a peaceful one and does not repeat the great tragedy of European power politics. The dream is linked to the reconstruction of “old” ordering principles rooted in Chinese history and philosophy.

Until the Opium Wars (First Opium War: 1839ㅡ1842), the “inter-national” order established by the Chinese empire was based on the idea of “all under heaven” (tianxia), the concept of China as the centre of the civilized world, with its external exchanges based on the tributary system. This traditional structural element established a hierarchy in the Chinese emperor’s relations with other states and tribes. Depending on their geographical proximity to the Chinese empire and the degree to which they had assimilated and internalized “Chinese” norms and values, these actors were arranged in concentric circles around the power centre personified by the son of heaven.16 But the term tianxia signifies far more than just “empire”: It merges the concept of the “state” and the “civilized world” into one.17

A similar equation between “world” and “state-empire” has been documented for the Imperium Romanum. But despite all apparent similarities between the tianxia and the orbis terrarium regarding their claims to represent the “whole world,” Chinese writings on the history of international relations stress that China and Rome chose different ways of constructing and sustaining their empires. Whereas the Roman Empire heavily relied on military expansionism and direct control over the conquered territories, the Chinese narrative conceives of the tianxia as a soft-power approach, based on the symbolic recognition of the charismatic authority of the Chinese emperor as prerequisite to engage in the exchange of goods. The Chinese empire did not collect taxes from its vassal states, but engaged in symbolic trade relations, which, in English language literature, has been classified as tributary relations.18 This stands in line with the proclaimed self- image of China as a peaceful and benevolent power in regional and world affairs.

Following the outbreak of the financial crisis, some Chinese scholars have started to undertake a selective reinterpretation of the tianxia and the Westphalian system. Their research begins from the assumption of a general incompatibility between “Chinese” and “Western” ordering principles. The Westphalian order is linked with negative attributes: the international system is anarchic; nation-states compete against each other in zero-sum games; and wars and conflicts result from the absence of an ethical code of conduct.19 In contrast to this dark scenario the tianxia is depicted as a hierarchical but stable alternative blueprint for the 21st century, opposed to the “Western” concept of empire.20 According to Zhao Tingyang, the tianxia concept might serve as a model for “world governance” as opposed to the failed concepts of international or global governance defined by the Westphalian order. His critics remark that this argumentㅡthe failure of the “Western” concept of global order and the moral superiority of the tianxiaㅡlacks empirical foundation and applies a dual standard to the evaluation of “Western” and “Chinese” IR concepts.21 His supporters, however, try to integrate Zhao’s tianxia into global IR theorizing. They argue that Zhao’s writings, which upgrade the tianxia from a regional institutional framework to an abstract global model, overcome the shortcomings of theory approaches that continue to rely on a state-centric construction of the international order.22

In diplomatic practice, however, the PRC does not employ the tianxia concept, but rather refers to the idea of the “harmonious world” introduced by Hu Jintao in 2005. In contrast to Zhao’s global model, this requires the existence and persistence of independent nation-states that remain the main actors in world politics. Rather than transferring sovereignty to a superior, common world government beyond the borders of the old nation-states, the “harmonious world” assumes the peaceful coexistence of divergent, multiple civilizations.

Historical Parallels: The Old Quest for Status and Identity

The utopian construction of the (regional and global) world from a Chinese perspective is not just a phenomenon of the 21st century, but has its historic roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when s intellectual elites struggled to rebuild China’s territorial integrity and its national sovereignty. Among these literati-scholars was Kang Youwei, who, opposed to most of his contemporaries, did not pledge an overthrow of the Confucian norms, but instead favored a constitutional monarchy based on a reformed and modernized Confucianism. In his Datongshu, Kang drafts an utopian world community without any frontiers or territoriesㅡa global community beyond the nation-state, similar to a reformulation of the tianxia, this time not as a local, but as a universal, global order.

The ideational background of his utopian imaginary is to be found in the Liji, which contains a whole chapter on the ideal order of society (Liyun). The passage describes the decline of the old order and the subsequent transition from the era of the datong (great unity) to the xiaokang (well-off) society. The Gongyang Commentary on the Liji, on which Kang Youwei bases his utopia, argues that the development from datong to xiaokang is reversible. The return to the paradise lost, the old order, has ever been and continues to be a guiding principle in Chinese state philosophy. One of the most prominent examples is Sun Yatsen, the founding father of the Chinese Republic, who referred to the passage “tianxia wei gong” (in the sense: all under heaven form a communality) from the Liji to illustrate his vision of China’s future state constitution.23

Taking into account the historical circumstances under which Kang Youwei and Zhao Tingyang propagated their visionary models of a world order as derived from Chinese philosophy, it is more than obvious that, in both cases, these utopian models are part of an ongoing and unfinished state-building process. The Datongshu was written in the shadow of the national humiliation by external forces and the growing internal dispute over the right path to modernize China. Only after the abolition of the unequal treaties, forced upon the Chinese empire during the Opium Wars, did China regain its status as a sovereign state. But the quest for rebuilding its old power position continues and determines China’s politics to date.

During the late 19th century, various streams of intellectual thought influenced the understanding of the “nation” and the “state,” ranging from Marxism to anarchism and Social Darwinism. Quite a few influential afterthoughts on the ideal society and good governance criteria were authored by Kang Youwei’s disciple Liang Qichao. The rejuvenation of the Chinese “nation” was one of Liang’s central contributions to the Chinese intellectual debate on the modernization and reform of the Chinese empire (first dimension of the tianxia model).24 Even though the Westphalian concept of the sovereign nation-state has had a lasting effect on China’s positioning in international politics, the self-image as a “civilizational state,” displaying the legacy of China’s imperial past, is still discernible in contemporary Chinese writings on international politics. According to Zhang Weiwei, who counts as one of China’s most influential contemporary intellectual thinkers, a “civilizational state,” in contrast to a nation-state, does not rely on military-based expansion. It does not copy any other state’s or empire’s development model, and the guidelines of its strategic behavior are derived from its ownㅡand distinctㅡcultural traditions and historical patterns.25

The debate about a “Chinese” world order model finally reveals itself as a continuation of the late imperial intellectual debates on self-strengthening and reform. Furthermore, it is at the same time also a variation of the “China model” debate, which Chinese scholars trace back to the writings of Deng Xiaoping. The term “China model” stands for a pragmatic and flexible development approach that integrates market economic principles into the overarching frame of planned economy and stands for high-speed economic growth. It is often contrasted with the “Washington Consensus,” a normative condition-based approach to national development, and presented as an alternative orientation model for the developing world.26 The OBOR initiative is not based on coercion, but uses financial, monetary incentives to generate diffuse support for the Chinese model.

A New Type of Great Power Relations and New Neighborhood Policy

Chinese political analysts generally measure the world and international power relations in terms of comprehensive national power (CNP). On this matrix, the United States is still ranked as the world’s number one superpower. However, recent reflections about a potential power shift occurring have started to move the internal debates in a new direction. This power transition scenarioㅡthough generally backed as being the new “trend of the era,” or in Chinese Marxist terminology as “mirroring the objective development laws of history”ㅡis a source of major concern for Chinese scholars involved in the shaping of China’s official foreign strategy. From their perspective, the decline of the United States could throw the world into chaos if no other state steps in and up to fill the power vacuum left behind.

Chinese scholars are grappling with various scenarios and almost unanimously conclude that the future is most likely to be found in a multipolar order with one predominant player, the United States (thus reversing the order of China’s formula “one superpower, many great powers”). Unipolar structuresㅡin other words, ones centered on the United Statesㅡand bipolar structuresㅡsuch as the USㅡUSSR power antagonismㅡare seen as being unstable and conflict-laden.

The likely future development of ChinaㅡUS relations is seen as a key determinant of Chinese foreign policy. The international debate speculates about a possible struggle for hegemony between the United States and China. To avoid the emergence of a regional or global security dilemma, Chinese scholars thus advocate the idea of a cooperative relationship being formed between these two powers. Already prior to being promoted to the highest levels of political power, Xi Jinping, in his function as the PRC’s Vice President, visited the United States in February 2012 and proclaimed that a “new type of great power relations” was emerging.27 Later, both State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Hu Jintao, in his function as president, would use the same formulation at several meetings held between China and the United States. Simultaneously, the PRC has started to pay more attention to events in its close neighborhood: This “new” neighborhood policy, however, generally confirms China’s commitment to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.


Perceptions of self and other as well as utopian visions of idealized world order, not quantifiable power shifts as such, are the main drivers behind states’ positioning in the still changing post-crisis world order. Some observers have argued that China’s rise in the wake of the global financial crisis might result in a substitution of existing principles and paradigms of international politics by “Chinese” norms. Others, again, assume that China’s integration into the globalized world economy will socialize the country into the existing international order. Communitarian approaches, which seem more apt to cover these complex global realities, would predict a new synthesis of the normative beliefs propagated by the “West” and those of the “Asian” hemisphere.

Norm-making and norm-taking are causally interwoven with the distribution of power in the international system among major players involved. Soft power, status recognition, and access to participation in regional and global bargaining rounds are key determinants of a country’s international positioning strategy. The PRC’s demand to have equal access to norm-bargaining (huayuquan) is clear evidence of China’s shift from the role of observer to active participant.

Chinese commentaries and background notes on the OBOR initiative, which combines regional and global dimensions of China’s foreign strategy, outline that the New Silk Road project should not be taken as a Chinese Marshall Plan28 nor as a geopolitical calculation29 to establish China as a new hegemonic power center. The narratives formulated as conceptual backbones of China’s OBOR initiative reiterate the rhetorical patterns of China’s imaginary tianxia as an idealized model of a harmonious regional and global orderㅡoffering an alternative to the “Western” tradition of zero-sum power games and global order based on means of coercion. The regional and global network of trade and investment financed and coordinated by the OBOR initiative operates with the attractiveness of the unconditional financial support offered to all countries willing to join the “Chinese” network. This abstract master frame of the OBOR initiative shows direct analogies and parallels to the “Chinese” reconstruction of the tianxia model. However, the current debates on OBOR avoid linking it to the idea of hierarchy, which had been an integral element of the “historical” Sinocentric order.30 Having carefully studied the history of the rise and fall of great powers, China’s elites have turned to a post-polar master frame of world order that is composed of a network built around various major nodal points, which can only function if cooperation prevails over conflict and containment. While (economic, financial, monetary) power might currently be shifting in favor of China, the PRC remains concerned that new threat perceptionsㅡas manifested in the debates on China’s “new assertiveness” or the remaking of a “Sinocentric order”ㅡcould lead to containment measures that would threaten the implementation of China’s national development interests. Therefore, China’s OBOR initiative is presented as being in the interests of humankind as such; official statements have even started to operate with the term “community of shared destiny.”

China’s senior policy advisers recommend abstaining from pursuing too self-confident positioning as this would reactivate threat perceptions by others and fuel uncontrollable radical waves of nationalism at home.31 Cai Liang proposes to coin the PRC’s new role-identity under the fifth generation as one of “constructive reformer” (jianshexing de gaigezhe),32 a formula that reverberates with the US strategy of “constructive engagement.”

The Chinese outline of the OBOR initiative illustrates that confrontational leadership claims are seen as being potentially harmful to China’s national development goals. Leadership, i.e. the act of taking over the role of a regional or global centre, can only be exerted, if other players accept this claim and behave as cooperative followers. Confronted with rising anti-Chinese resentment among China’s regional neighbors the PRC’s foreign strategy works based on the assumption that national core interests can best be implemented through cooperative networks in which China acts as a fierce advocate of certain group interests, i.e. those of developing countries or rising economies.

While the final result of China’s network activities might be the re-emergence of China as a powerful economic and, in the long run, political center in the East Asian region and beyond, the formation of a new unipolar “Sinocentric” world order is rather unlikely to happen. First of all, power competition among the (East) Asian actors and the interference of external players, the United States and Russia, into regional politics lead to an implicit fragmentation of the regional order instead of integration. Secondly, power constellations are continuously changingㅡand given that China is facing unsolved domestic socio-economic imbalances and is severely vulnerable by shifts in its external environment, its power position is far from stable. Finally, claiming a centre position might imply that China would have to shoulder more responsibilities and to “pay” for maintaining the stability along the New Silk Road. A networked regional and global order, by contrast, would grant China participation in the configuration of global norms and standards, but would always come with an opting-out option. China’s OBOR initiative, to quote the PRC’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, should not be taken as a “solo,” but as a contribution to a regional and global “symphony.”33

1. These reflections on the multiple strategic dimensions of China’s OBOR initiative are based on the first findings of my current DFG research project Concepts of Political Change and Legitimate Modes of Governance in the People’s Republic of China in the Studies of Chinese Political Scientists (NO 1041/2-1) (2014-2017).

2. See:

3. Chen Dinding, Pu, Xiaoyu, and Alastair Iain Johnston, “Debating China’s Assertiveness,” International Security 38, no. 3 (2014): 176-183; Alastair Iain Johnston, How New and Assertive Is China’s New Assertiveness?” International Security 37, no. 4 (2013):7-48.

4. See: 1ebb8969cc23.shtml.

5. Song Lilei and Cai Liang, “Xin shiqi Zhongguo guoji juese dingwei de neihan yu yiyi,” Xin Shiye, no. 5 (2013): 16.

6. Charles Krauthammer, “The unipolar moment,” Foreign Affairs 70, no. 1 (1990): 22-32.

7. Richard N. Haas, “The age of nonpolarity: What will follow US dominance?, Foreign Affairs (May/June 2008),

8. Hu Jintao, “Multipolarity plays key role in world peace,” People’s Daily, 2001,

9. Zhang Yongjin, “Understanding Chinese views of the emerging global order,” in China and the New International Order, ed Wang Gungwu and Zheng Yongnian (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), 151.

10. Renmin Ribao’s webportal presents a collection of selected articles dealing with the theoretical underpinnings and the official definition of the “Chinese Dream.“ See:

11. Liu, Mingfu, Zhongguo meng: Hou Meiguo shidai de daguo siwei zhanlüe dingwei (Beijing: Zhongguo youyi chubanshe, 2010).

12. “Resolution on Some Central Issues in the Construction of a Harmonious Society,” 10-18/125711271474.shtml.

13. Nele Noesselt, Alternative Weltordnungsmodelle? IB-Diskurse in China (Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2010).

14. “Jujiao Xi Jinping fang E shiji: Zhongguo meng yu shang ‘chongzhen Eluosi meng,’” Xinhua, March 22, 2013,

15. “Zhongguo meng, Feizhou meng, shijie meng,” Renmin Ribao, March 26, 2013,

16. Wang Rihua, “Kongzizhuyi yu guoji guanxi lilun yu Zhongguo waijiao,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, no. 5, 2011, 51.

17. See the entries in the encyclopedic dictionaries Hanyu Da Cidian and Zhongguo Da Baike Quanshu.

18. Even if the symbolic interactions show some resemblance to tribute relations, the expression for it used in Chineseㅡfeng-gong-system, not tribute systemㅡillustrates the symbolic-ritual dimension of political rule inside the tianxia. Titles and seals (feng) were conferred on those local rulers who had recognized the authority of the “son of heaven.” More or less regularly, they sent ceremonial presents and, in exchange, received goods and gifts from the emperor (gong).

19. Zhao Tingyang, Tianxia tixi: Shijie zhidu zhexue daolun (Nanjing: Jiangsu jiaoyu chubanshe, 2005).

20. Zhao Tingyang, “Tianxia tixi: diguo yu shijie zhidu,” Shijie zhexue, no. 5, 2003, 2-33.

21. Zhou Fangyin, “Tianxia tixi shi zuihao de shijie zhidu ma?” Guoji zhengzhi kexue, no. 2, 2008, 98ㅡ104; Xu, Jianxin, “Tianxia tixi yu shijie zhidu,” Guoji zhengzhi kexue, no. 2, 2007, 137.

22. Liu Han and Wang Cungang, “Lun Yingguo xuepai de guoji zhixu guan ㅡ jian yu tianxia tixi lilun de zhixu guan bijiao,” Guoji luntan, no. 6, 2011, 41ㅡ46.

23. Nele Noesselt, Governance-Formen in China: Theorie und Praxis des chinesischen Modells (Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2012).

24. These reflections have been documented in Liang’s famous writings “Ode to Young China” and “Discourse on the New Citizen.” For a general overview regarding intellectual debates in late-imperial China, see Charlotte Furth, “Intellectual change: From the Reform Movement to the May Fourth Movement, 1895-1920,” in The Cambridge History of China, Vol. XII, Part 1: Republican China, 1912- 1949, ed. John K. Fairbank and Denis Twitchett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 322ㅡ405.

25. Zhang Weiwei, The China wave: Rise of a civilizational state (Hackensack, NJ: World Century, 2012), 55-58.

26. Wang Yukai, “Zhongguo zhengzhi moshi tiaxian le zishen youshi,” Renmin luntan, no. 28, 2008, 36ㅡ37; Yu Keping, “Zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi de shijie lishi yiyi,” Renmin luntan, no. 28, 2008, 16ㅡ19.

27. “Zhongmei ying gongtong tansuo xinxing daguo xiangchu zhi dao,” Guangming Ribao, April 29, 2012, 04/29/c_123056821.htm.

28. “Yidai, yilu de waijie wudu yu lixing fanshi”, CASS, 2015, For an English summary of some Chinese comments on the differences between OBOR and the Marshall Plan, see:

29. “Waijiaobu: Yidai, yilu bu shi suowei de diyuan zhengzhi gongju,” Xinhua, December 30, 2015,

30. David C. Kang, East Asia before the West: Five centuries of trade and tribute (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

31. Wang Yizhou, Chuangzaoxing jieru: Zhongguo zhi quanqiu juese de shengcheng (Beijing: Beijing Daxue Chubanshe, 2013).

32. Cai Liang, “Zhongguo meng” yu xin shiqi Zhongguo guoj juese dingwei de neihan ji yiyi,’ Chuangxin, no. 47, 2013, 40- 45

33. “China’s Belt and Road initiatives not solo, but symphony,” Xinhua, March 8, 2015,

  • Cornfused

    I am a simple man and not a scholar of Chinese thought, so perhaps I can be forgiven for finding China’s behavior in Sri Lanka more indicative of coercive use of economic power than one might expect from this article?
    This might be explained by a gap between political theory and the accomodation to mercantile means were it not for the enduring example of Tibet long under coercive control of China quite involuntarily.